If you read our other blog post about ISO/ANSI scores, you’re familiar with what an ISO/ANSI score is and what it means with the grading criteria, testing conditions and your processes considered. After releasing that post we learned there were some questions left unanswered, so we thought we’d take a moment to address them.
Even though the ISO/ANSI test environment is highly regulated there are some uncontrollable factors that may impact test scores. Things like barcode materials, the printing process, the time of testing and the testing environment in contrast to your environment, all have an effect on the results of your ISO/ANSI score. Whether that effect be positive or negative it can lead to situations where outside factors might prevent you from being able to receive A-grade barcodes. In most cases that’s okay and we’re going to explain why.
1. Barcode materials
To start off, the materials used to create your barcode labels will have an effect on their scores. Substrates, inks, laminates and coatings all affect the way a barcode is scanned. Glossy laminates and finishes reflect light, thick layers of ink can create small shadows and translucent substrates can diffuse light, reducing the readability of your barcodes.
If your barcode labels require certain types of substrates and inks to withstand chemicals they’ll face during your processes, for example, if the substrate is glossy and the ink is very thick, you may expect a lower ISO/ANSI score. In cases like this, the print quality could be very high but the gloss and shadow created by the substrate and ink might interfere with readability under the test conditions.
The ISO/ANSI test requires strict environmental conditions, conditions that will likely be different from your scanning environment. We’ll talk more later in this post about environment and its effect on score, but it should be mentioned here that material effects can often be offset by environmental effects. For example, a barcode with a glossy laminate might not scan very well under direct lighting, but if it can be moved out of the direct light it will be more likely to read.
It’s important to keep in mind that in spite of barcode materials potentially lowering the readability of the barcode, in most cases it will still be readable. Readers today are made to handle a variety of materials and minor scanning process adjustments can be made to accommodate particularly difficult labels.
2. The printing process
Of course the printing process will affect the ISO/ANSI score since the purpose of the test itself is to check print quality. There are, however, certain circumstances that prevent barcodes from receiving higher scores. Print technologies, printer settings and speeds can all effect the quality of the printed barcodes in a way that will affect ISO/ANSI scores but most often won’t affect your processes.
Different print technologies provide different levels of print quality. Because of this, most label suppliers print using high tech digital offset or UV printing processes. These printing technologies are trusted to provide extremely high quality print and are able to achieve A-scoring barcodes under the right circumstances but, just because A-grades are possible with a print technology doesn’t mean they are guaranteed. In certain cases the materials or the necessary print speeds and settings to complete the job may not allow for a high score. So long as you are working with a reputable barcode supplier, you should trust that the print operator is running the job with the intent of providing you with the highest possible quality in these instances.
If your company is considering switching from in house barcode printing to outsourcing and isn’t quite sure what a reasonable ISO/ANSI grade to ask for is, consider this: Many of our customers require variable information to be printed on the spot and in those situations we typically recommend a desktop thermal transfer print strategy. Thermal transfer print technology is both user friendly and extremely durable, but an ISO/ANSI score any higher than a C can’t be expected with the desktop version. Despite this, barcodes printed using desktop thermal transfer printers are trusted to perform in critical environments like the healthcare industry all over the globe.
3. Time of testing
Most facilities test their barcodes as they exit the printer in order to catch any low scores early on in the process, others wait until the very last run of processing to ensure the effects of any laminates or coatings added post print are accounted for in the score.
Both methods have their pros and cons. With the first method, unsatisfactory barcodes can be disposed of and reprinted right away, reducing the amount of time and resources wasted processing an illegitimate product and lowering costs for both the manufacturer and end customer. However, the ISO/ANSI score may change dramatically as the barcode is processed further.
The second method benefits from having the ISO/ANSI score account for additional processes that occur after printing, but this in itself can be seen as a shortcoming. Since the test is intended to check print quality, by increasing the number of non-print related variables the test results become skewed.
In both cases, the time of scoring—despite it affecting your ISO/ANSI score—will have little effect on the readability of your barcodes. If two barcodes that are exactly the same go through the exact same processes and one is tested post print and the other post processing they will probably receive different scores, but they’ll likely read just the same once they arrive at your facility for use.
During the ISO/ANSI test the environment is highly controlled. Certain lighting conditions must be achieved and the single line scanner is positioned at a very specific angle allowing for very little variance between test facilities. This is ideal for a test environment, however, it’s unlikely to be an accurate representation of how your systems run.
Dust particles in the air, lighting conditions, scanner mobility and scanner type are likely very different in your facility than they are in the ISO/ANSI test environment. This means your barcodes are likely going to read differently during your processes than they did during the test. In most cases, the scanning conditions in your facility are a lot better than the conditions during the test since you have freedom to make adjustments.
Furthermore, and possibly most importantly, your scanner is most likely more robust than the single line scanner used for the test. Though some facilities continue to use single line scanners, most companies utilize rastering or CCD scanners that are capable of reading poor quality barcodes, even under harsh conditions.
The ISO/ANSI testing conditions are strict for two reasons: one, because it’s a test and the variables need to be controlled and two, so the grades can reflect how the barcodes will perform under strenuous conditions. If your barcode scanning environment isn’t particularly harsh and your scanning technology is up to date you should continue to achieve high first read rates on lower scoring barcodes.
No matter what your barcode needs are, know that as long as you’re working with a reputable supplier their goal will be to help you find your ideal solution. Ensuring your barcode supplier is familiar with and understanding of your processes helps them to work with you to determine which functions are most important to your overall barcode solution.